Rules for ein/eine/einen etc
Can anyone explain/point me to a good explanation of the use of ein/eine/einen, kein/keine/keinen etc? I've learnt the Duo sentences, get them all right, but I still don't understand the rules, want to get it before I move on. (And I know this has been asked/answered repeatedly, but somehow, I'm not getting it yet.)
First of all, have you understand the three grammatical genders? If not, you won't be able to progress on that point or many others. In German, nouns are gendered, whether or not they represent a gendered object (person, animal, thing, concept…). They can be masculine, neuter or feminin: no shortcuts here, you have to brute-force remember which is which.
Then you have the cases, or a change of forms of some words (articles, adjectives, pronouns, and nouns) according to their fonction in the sentence. Nominative for isolated words '(typically in the dictionnary, or as titles of books, newspaper article, etc), for the subject of the sentence, or the predicate of the subject; accusative for the direct object of the verb, after accusative only verbs or prepositions, or for a complement indicating movement (real or symbolic); dative for indirect object, after dative only verbs or prepositions, or for complement indicating a position; and genitive, for complement of the noun, or after a few prepositions.
Still with me? Now it should be clear. The article is the primary marker of the gender and case. So it changes the most.
Ein ist for masculine and neuter nominative singular, and neuter accusative singular. Eine is for feminine accusative and nominative singular. Einen is masculine accusative singular. Einem is masculine dative singular. Einer ist feminine singular dative, eines masculine or neuter singular genitive.
Obviously, there are no plural forms of "ein" (acts like "a" in English, in plural, you use no article at all). But there are plural forms of kein. In singular, this acts just like ein; in plural (for all genders), you have keine for nominative and accusative, keinen for dative, and keiner for dative (these are the same ending as the definite article "der, die, das").
Hope this explaination makes things easier. I recommend you search and copy (and study to memorize) one of the multiple article declension tables sitting on the Internet.
I wish you luck. Once you have had your aha moment, it becomes kind of fun, I promise :) Don't hesitate to ask more questions if needed.
Thank you, Vabiele! That is hugely helpful to see it laid out so clearly. I've drawn out my own chart from your explanation, in the hopes writing and processing it helps, and now, I will follow your advice to look up a table. Once I understand the theory I'm happy to grind to learn the info, it's just hard until it's clear what you should learn! You've helped immensely.
I was exactly at your place not so long ago, Alex, I'm glad I could help.
On a similar note, keep in a corner of your mind that the adjective takes the significant ending when the article doesn't. Sooner or later (rather sooner), this info could save you lots of headaches. Don't mind for now, but remember when you have to learn the declension of the adjectives. If I had been told that years ago, I could be bilingual by now (not kidding).
When you master that (articles following the definite or indefinite article, attributive adjective), you must just add an -n (or -en) ending to any dative plural noun, and an -s (or -es) ending to most masculine and neuter genitive singular. I save the exeptions to this last rule for another time.
One more time, don't mind those informations untill you need them (perhaps save them somewhere), then read them before studying the tables, and save litteral weeks of miserably trying to memorize them :)
PS: for reference, please copy-paste the onscreen comments, not the email you probably recieved of my first answer, cause I've edited a few mistakes. And don't overtrust me, I could still have let some slip, but the concept is right.
Then again, if we do have to learn the genders, I have a few tips to help if you can use them. Just ask :)